Chapter II. Prevention

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Rev Diabet Stud, 2012, 9(4):272-286 DOI 10.1900/RDS.2012.9.272

Helminth Infection and Type 1 Diabetes

Paola Zaccone, Samuel W. Hall

Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge, Tennis Court Rd, Cambridge CB2 1QP, UK

Manuscript submitted December 21, 2012; resubmitted January 15, 2013; accepted February 1, 2013.

Keywords: type 1 diabetes, hygiene hypothesis, NOD, Treg cell, dendritic cell, macrophage, eosinophil, TGF


The increasing incidence of type 1 diabetes (T1D) and autoimmune diseases in industrialized countries cannot be exclusively explained by genetic factors. Human epidemiological studies and animal experimental data provide accumulating evidence for the role of environmental factors, such as infections, in the regulation of allergy and autoimmune diseases. The hygiene hypothesis has formally provided a rationale for these observations, suggesting that our co-evolution with pathogens has contributed to the shaping of the present-day human immune system. Therefore, improved sanitation, together with infection control, has removed immunoregulatory mechanisms on which our immune system may depend. Helminths are multicellular organisms that have developed a wide range of strategies to manipulate the host immune system to survive and complete their reproductive cycles successfully. Immunity to helminths involves profound changes in both the innate and adaptive immune compartments, which can have a protective effect in inflammation and autoimmunity. Recently, helminth-derived antigens and molecules have been tested in vitro and in vivo to explore possible applications in the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, including T1D. This exciting approach presents numerous challenges that will need to be addressed before it can reach safe clinical application. This review outlines basic insight into the ability of helminths to modulate the onset and progression of T1D, and frames some of the challenges that helminth-derived therapies may face in the context of clinical translation.

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